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Japan-Update

With emperor's abdication date set, Japan turns to details

Preparing ceremonies, choosing new era name seen taking a year or more

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. In 2019, Akihito will become Japan's first monarch to abdicate in two centuries.

TOKYO -- Japan's cabinet on Friday officially set the emperor's abdication for April 30, 2019, turning the focus to ceremonial proceedings and other details involved in the succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

The day after Emperor Akihito steps down, ending Japan's Heisei era, Crown Prince Naruhito will assume the throne and begin a new one. Akihito will be Japan's first monarch to abdicate since Emperor Kokaku in 1817, leaving no recent precedent to follow.

In informal talks, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged his ministers to do everything they could to ensure a smooth transition. He believes the preparations will take a year at minimum, according to a summary released Friday of a Dec. 1 meeting with the imperial household.

A preparatory organization headed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga is set to start work soon after the new year. The body, which will include members of the Imperial Household Agency and National Police Agency, will focus on how to carry out the ceremonies.

The body aims to "be mindful of the impact on citizens' everyday lives," Suga told reporters Friday.

Japan's postwar constitution forbids the emperor from taking part in politics and separates religion and state, presenting the preparatory unit with the task of determining whether to treat ceremonies as state functions.

The body plans to announce a name for the new era in 2018, hoping to give citizens ample time to prepare. It probably has already asked scholars of Chinese and Japanese classics to submit options.

Another question is whether to declare a public holiday on May 1, 2019, when Naruhito ascends the throne. That could link up with other observances that week to create a 10-day holiday. Some in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party like the idea of a long national time off that would bring a bump in consumption shortly before elections in the Diet's upper house.

The government is looking to hold Naruhito's ceremonial enthroning in October or November 2019. It may be timed to coincide with one of the international functions Japan will host in those months, including Group of 20 summit meetings, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development and the Rugby World Cup.

(Nikkei)

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